With the amazon documentary on Tottenham Hotspur being released this week, the final closure on the Pochettino reign at Spurs should finally come. As well as being a hugely likeable character, Pochettino built a team that connected with its fanbase and helped the club enjoy a significantly increased stature both domestically and internationally within the game. Thanks to this, you can rest assured that Pochettino will always be offered a warm welcome at Tottenham.
League Performance – 5th, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 4th
There can be little argument that Tottenham performed consistently well in the league under Pochettino. During his first three seasons in charge the team’s progress was obvious as they established themselves as title contenders and memorably went unbeaten at home throughout their final season at White Hart Lane. The team itself was built on high fitness levels, intense physicality and technical quality that combined to produce some thrilling performances. A 2-0 win over Antonio Conte’s Chelsea champions to be proving one of the many highlights.
Since his 3rd season, Pochettino’s challenge has gradually altered with the building of the new stadium becoming the biggest priority at the club. With little investment in the side Tottenham continued to overachieve in the league by securing back to back Champions League finishes but the decline in the team’s level became increasingly apparent as their points tally’s demonstrate (86/77/ 71/59). It was this decline in league form over a three-year period that ultimately led to Pochettino losing his job early in the 2019/20 season but the debate on who is to blame for this decline is another article in itself.
2017/18 – Round of 16 – Juventus – 3-4
2018/19 – Final – Liverpool – 0-2
2014/15 – Round of 32 – Fiorentina – 1-3
2015/16 – Round of 16 – Borussia Dortmund – 1-5
2016/17 – Round of 32 – KAA Gent – 2-3
Tottenham have enjoyed some magical European nights under Pochettino both at White Hart Lane and Wembley, perhaps the only time the National Stadium really felt like home. Beating Real Madrid 3-1 there was one of the highlights of Pochettino’s reign but other heavyweight European giants including Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City were also dispatched.
Tottenham’s progress on the European stage culminated in a trip to the final, a fantastic achievement but that come from behind victory against Ajax was probably where Pochettino’s time at the club reached its climax.
Losing to Liverpool in the final was disappointing, particularly given the nature of the game but that ultimately reflected the fact that after going behind early, Tottenham did not have the quality to break down one of the best sides in Europe. No shame in that.
Pochettino was, in my view, unfairly blamed for selecting Harry Kane ahead of Lucas Moura for that match on the basis that Moura had led the line successfully in the semi-final in which he scored a hat-trick. Applying any scrutiny to that criticism sees it fall apart somewhat as revisiting the semi-final fixtures shows that in Kane’s absence Tottenham managed just one shot on target in the first leg which they lost 1-0 at home in a toothless attacking display.
The second leg was where Lucas Moura produced his heroics but even the laziest analyst could recognize that the result of Moura leading the line on his own was a 2-0 defeat in the first forty-five minutes. It was only when Fernando Llorente was brought on at half time and Spurs resorted to route one football that Moura was able to come up with a telling contribution. The only real criticism of Tottenham’s performance in Europe was the defeat to Gent in his third season when his side were at their best. It was one of their best chances to win a trophy missed and that was a theme that continued in the domestic cups.
2014/15 – 4th Round – Leicester – 1-2
2015/16 – 5th Round – Crystal Palace – 0-1
2016/17 – Semi-Final – Chelsea – 2-4
2017/18 – Semi-Final – Manchester United – 1-2
2018/19 – 4th Round – Crystal Palace – 0-2
2014/15 – Final – Chelsea – 0-2
2015/16 – 3rd Round – Arsenal – 1-2
2016/17 – 4th Round – Liverpool – 1-2
2017/18 – 4th Round – West Ham – 2-3
2018/19 – Semi-Final – Chelsea – Lost on Penalties
2019/20 – 3rd Round – Colchester – Lost on Penalties
Pochettino was always open in admitting that the Champions League and Premier League were the priority for Tottenham but his record in the domestic cups is underwhelming. The trip to the League Cup Final in his first season highlighted the positive impact he was having at the club but that was as good as it got with the defeats to West ham after leading 2-0 and Colchester in his final season particular low points.
The FA Cup also offered some low key early exits but the biggest disappointments came in the semi-final defeats to Chelsea and Manchester United. It is no disgrace to lose to either of these sides but here was where I felt Pochettino made his biggest mistakes. He chose to leave Kyle Walker out of the clash with Chelsea, playing Son at wingback for the one and only time (I think) during his reign. A move which backfired.
The following year Spurs were in the semi-final again and again Pochettino made some big decisions, leaving Alderweireld, their best defender and Hugo Lloris, their club captain out of the fixture. Again, a look back at the second Manchester United goal suggests that this was a mistake. It was these decisions that ultimately meant that Tottenham finished five terrific seasons without silverware to show for it.
The scenes at the end of the Champions League Semi-final were probably the beginning of the end for Pochettino. His team were no longer at their best and his comments around leaving the club suggested he had doubts over being present for the necessary rebuild. The team failed to implement his change in system at the start of the new season and while he had probably done enough to deserve being given the rest of the campaign to turn things around his comments since leaving suggest it may have been the right time for him to go.
So what is Pochettino’s legacy? As any opposing fans often remind Spurs supporters he won no trophies but there is little doubt that his team consistently overachieved. At a club which delights in the game being ‘about the glory’ there are plenty of performances that fit the bill. Pochettino gave everything he had to Tottenham during his time there and that was reflected in the relationships he built with the players and supporters. He was not a perfect manager, in reality none of them are, but he certainly sprinkled a little magic around this proud North London club.